Monthly Archives: January 2018



One day I will write a blog about how hot and dry everything is, how the dust hangs in the air, and the sun beats mercilessly down on us. But today is not the day. It’s still wet. In fact it’s beyond that, if you’ll pardon my French, it’s sodding wet.

You know when a day is out to get you. I backed the quad onto the quad trailer and went to hook the trailer on. The lock that fastens over the ball hitch wasn’t working. Whether it’s jammed with mud or what I don’t know, I made an executive decision that this wasn’t a problem I was going to deal with in the pouring rain. So I put the old trailer on.

This is twice the weight and probably about twice the width. It’s not a bad trailer but does have its issues.

So I put the feed in the trailer and Sal and I set off to feed the first lot of sheep. Of course I met a neighbour in the lane, and of course he was driving in the opposite direction is a reasonably wide vehicle. I pulled off the road into a gateway but of course with the old trailer on, it was still hanging out into the road. But with a bit of jiggling we managed to get past each other. So now I’m mildly wet.

In to see the first lot of ewes. This involves walking through wet sheep who’re surging round you. They’re coming up behind you at just the right height to hit you behind the knee. If they walk across the front of you or overtake you to the side, well they rub a sodden wet fleece all over your legs.

But everybody has their food, everybody is happy. (Except Sal, who isn’t entirely happy because sheep who see food being poured out for them will run over the dog to get to it before their mates do. Sal finds this lack of respect distinctly hurtful to be honest.)
But anyway, I’m now merely wet.

Off to see the second lot. They’re furthest from lambing, get a lot less feed, but perhaps because of this seem even keener to get to me before their mates do. Sal has abandoned any thought of maintaining order and is merely rolling in the coarse grass, perhaps as a way of having a bath. Both lots of ewes are out on some land that never got mown last year because the idea was to make hay. The weather conspired to ensure that hay was never made. So the sheep are ‘chewing it off.’

There is a school of thought within agriculture which says that actually you shouldn’t waste time and money making hay or silage for winter, but should just leave the grass growing in the field and eat it off in situ. It’s not something I’ve dared to do, and I’ve got my doubts about whether it’s the sort of feed which can support new calved dairy cows. But on dryish ground with growing cattle I can see it might have a place. But still, at the moment, we’re briefly and accidentally at the cutting edge of grazing management. Mind you, I suspect that like many farmers over the last five or six thousand years, we’re just making the best of a bad job and putting a good face on it.

Next to look at some store lambs for a neighbour. Turn uphill and thanks to the heavy trailer frantically have to drop a gear. Sal looks on as if to ask what I’m playing at. I’m now travelling more slowly that she likes. Shrugging off the unspoken disapproval of a Border Collie we make it to the store lambs and miracles of miracles, none of them seem to have got themselves entangled in hedges, so I don’t have to get wet pulling one out. Instead I just get wet driving round the perimeter to check. But still, I’ve been sodding wet before and I’ll doubtless be sodding wet again.

Finally off to see the wintering hoggs. The age of miracles is still with us because they’re all at the bottom end where I can see them all from the road. This saves me having to take the quad into the field, through a gateway which is largely underwater. It does mean I’ve got to turn quad and trailer round in the lane, which isn’t too bad with the smaller of the two trailers, but of course, I’ve got the heavier trailer to manoeuvre in the pouring rain.
Anyway, job done, everybody fed, checked and otherwise monitored. Home again, drop the trailer off, put the quad away, fasten Sal up and in for coffee. But before the coffee, everything I’m wearing is dripping wet so goes into the washing machine.

Except, strangely enough, for my socks. Normally the water runs down your jacket and trousers and pools at the bottom of your Wellingtons. I think that because I was sitting on the quad, my socks somehow stayed dry. Ah well, let’s be thankful for small mercies.

Also let’s be thankful for the fact actually the day wasn’t too bad. On a bad day, you have to put a second lot of soaking clothes into the washing machine, and retrieve the first lot from the tumble-drier.


If you want to complain about it, I recommend you go direct to senior management

As a reviewer commented, “

Jim Webster’s stories make me nostalgic for a world I’ve never known – and probably am not sturdy enough to survive. His affection for his charges, the ewes and the lambs, is evident when he points out they are smarter than horses (horses have better PR). His warm tales about his sheep dogs make me want to own a dog (I’m not a dog person, and these are intelligent farm worker dogs, not pets). It’s the straightforward and down home way he writes about the daily life of someone who’s been a farmer since a child, through all the wavering government support and lack thereof, through the plagues of the farm life, in a way that shows the depth of his love for his home and profession. Think ‘James Herriot, Farmer.’

I’m stopping to write this review at the end of the 8th entry, labeled, ‘Occasionally you get it right,’ because he does – and I want to savor the rest of them slowly.

Jim Webster is a writer – I can give no higher praise. Read him, and you may be a little closer to what it really means to be a sheep farmer, as close as you can get. You get all the good stuff. It’ll warm your cockles.”

But we left him alone with his glory.


There are days when whatever you intended, other stuff just sort of gets added to the agenda.

I had to go down to London. Virgin did their best, the train was swift and arrived on time and I drifted into London. It was expensive; my Kindle had just failed so I was forced to buy books!

But still, it had to be done and books were bought to ensure I had something to read, at least on the train back.

Anyway I checked in, dumped my gear and pondered the evening which was cold and windy. First stop was St Paul’s Cathedral which is just nearby. I try and catch evensong if I can and it was there I saw it. For Christmas and Epiphany the Cathedral as a virtually life sized crib scene. It has kings, mother and child, shepherds, lambs and a border collie. All I can say is that the sculptor who created it had grasped the essential nature of the Border Collie.

There are kings, the Madonna, the Son of God, and doubtless outside in the yard there are camels, donkeys and all sorts of cattle. Our Border Collie (and it can be nothing else) ignores them all and concentrates entirely on the really important issue. The sheep.


During the service, it was announced that the Rifles were going to lay a tribute at the Memorial of Sir John Moore, Moore of Corunna. After evensong those who wanted to gathered in a side chapel and there the dean said a few words, the wreaths were laid, somebody read the poem, and six buglers played. Given that was in a side chapel, and there were, as I mentioned, six of them, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he heard it.

He was a decent man, a fine officer, a humanitarian and deserves to be remembered. He died at the Battle of Corunna, where his victory won time for the British army to be evacuated by sea.



The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna


Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,

    As his corse to the rampart we hurried;

Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot

    O’er the grave where our hero was buried.


We buried him darkly at dead of night,

    The sods with our bayonets turning,

By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light

    And the lantern dimly burning.


No useless coffin enclosed his breast,

    Not in sheet or in shroud we wound him;

But he lay like a warrior taking his rest

    With his martial cloak around him.


Few and short were the prayers we said,

    And we spoke not a word of sorrow;

But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead,

    And we bitterly thought of the morrow.


We thought, as we hollowed his narrow bed

    And smoothed down his lonely pillow,

That the foe and the stranger would tread o’er his head,

    And we far away on the billow!


Lightly they’ll talk of the spirit that’s gone,

    And o’er his cold ashes upbraid him –

But little he’ll reck, if they let him sleep on

    In the grave where a Briton has laid him.


But half of our heavy task was done

    When the clock struck the hour for retiring;

And we heard the distant and random gun

    That the foe was sullenly firing.


Slowly and sadly we laid him down,

    From the field of his fame fresh and gory;

We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,

    But we left him alone with his glory!


Charles Wolfe

 Avoiding entanglements


Obviously it’s tough being a best selling author. After all there are only so many free lunches a chap can attend. Then with the endless free drinks, the groupies, and of course the expense account….

Sorry I was looking at the wrong list, that’s what you get for being an MP. Easy mistake to make obviously.

But anyway, I have occasionally had fame tap me on the shoulder. On one occasion I was asked whether I’d like to do my own radio show on music radio. I confess I was tempted, but only briefly. I’m not somebody who can babble inanely for long periods, (Although if tempted by suitably appropriate financial recompense I could doubtless improvise.) But really, what deterred me from ever setting my foot on that road was the fact that, frankly, I just didn’t like the music. I did listen to some of the output and I tried really hard to like it, but to be fair it was music designed by a cruel fate to be babbled over.

It’s surprising how subjective all this stuff is. After all there was one group I used to rather sneer at as the teeny bopper boy band my little sister liked. Now I have to confess I do think Dire Straits have produced some good stuff. Doubtless there’s stuff being played now which in thirty years time might be remembered. But still, that being said, playing endless Bon Jovi to elderly people in nursing homes does strike me as coming awfully close to being a cruel and unnatural punishment.

There again, given my ability to get myself caught up in declining industries, perhaps the music industry is glad I’ve given them a miss. After all, they’d hardly be keen on following down the same road as Agriculture and Freelance Journalism when it comes to paying folk a living.

Still, it has to be said that there’s nothing like a good dose of reality to help ground a chap and stop him getting ideas above his station. The last few days have been fine and the ground was almost starting to dry out a bit. Except that last night it rained. No, it didn’t just rain, it sodding well chucked it down. When I went out to feed sheep this morning the rain had slowed to a drizzle, but water was still streaming down both sides of the lanes. As for the fields, it had started getting silly again.

But Sal and I pressed boldly on, undeterred by the fact that when the quad stopped, I could here the splashing of Sal’s feet. Still at least the ewes were glad to see us. When you’re feeding ewes the best plan is to get far enough ahead of them on the quad so that you can stop, get the feed and start putting out in little heaps on the ground before the ewes catch up with you. If you manage this then you’ll probably not be trampled underfoot.
If you don’t think this can happen, there’s a video here that might surprise you.


But anyway, as we check sheep, Sal always combs the hedges looking for those who’ve somehow got themselves entangled. With Sal bearing down on them it’s amazing how they can suddenly break free. On the other hand, we do get those who’re so entangled they cannot manage it. I included a photo of one. Left to her own devices she’ll starve.
You know the bible stories about the shepherd who lost one sheep and left the ninety-nine to find it. In all probability, this is what happened to it.

When you do find a sheep this tangled up, I’ve found the best way to untangle it is to get hold of both back legs and just pull the sheep backwards, away from the hedge. When you think about it the sheep has been hurling itself forwards for some time and that hasn’t worked.

If you pull the sheep backwards it’s as if the briars have less grip. Also you can find that the briar roots have a weaker hold on the ground than the thorns have on the sheep’s fleece.

Then when you’ve pulled the sheep free, still holding the back legs, walk it round so that it is no longer facing the hedge. Then let it go. If you let it go still facing the hedge there’s every chance that the daft beggar will accelerate straight back into the briars.

There again, a mate of mine had similar problems with women. Get him untangled from one and he’d just hurl himself straight into the next.



Now for anybody who’s interested, there is a collection of tales, some of them featuring Sal, for your delectation and delight. Available for a mere 99p

The advantages and disadvantages of ladies high-heeled cowboy boots.


Now I’ve never worn cowboy boots, with or without high heels, so I approach the whole subject with a completely open mind.

Still it strikes me, that as a public service; I ought to warn people of the risks that one can run wearing these boots. I speak of course not from personal experience but instead I shall relate, in a sober and restrained manner, what happened to a lady of my acquaintance.

The daughter of a farmer, she had got a good job working for one of the organs of the state. Thus she had a salary, a civil service job contract and of course, an index linked pension coming down the line. This latter was a distant prospect when the fateful incident happened.

The particular organ of the state that the lady worked for had to deal with farmers. Thus and so it was decided they would have a stand at one of the countries leading agricultural shows. The lady of my acquaintance was an obvious person to work on the stand.

She was pleasantly cheered by the prospect, as was her father. The family were contemplating purchasing a new tractor, and daughter, being one of the people who would be using it most, was the ideal person to discuss matters with various salesmen and other company representatives. After all, daughter might have a job, but that didn’t bar her from working for a living when she wasn’t slouching about playing at being a civil servant. In the course of a year she probably worked more hours at home than she did at work.

So the great day came and she headed into the deep south to do her bit for her employer. But of course, all the staff on the stand were given some time off during the day to look round. She made an immediate beeline for the tractor lines.

Now then, it is a self evident truth that any tractor salesman is happy to spend a little time talking to an attractive young lady. When that attractive young lady not merely knows what she is talking about but appears to be serious about purchasing a tractor, then your tractor salesman has been lifted direct to some higher heaven.

It has to be admitted that the tractor salesman could not have been more helpful. Not at all patronising, with no hint of sexism, he went through the complete specifications of the tractor she was interested in. Then he suggested she actually climb up into the cab and see how the layout worked for her. This she did, and liked the layout. So she started to climb out of the tractor cab.

It is at this point that her problems started. You climb down backwards, facing the tractor. This is easy enough, but not, apparently, when you’re wearing ladies high-heeled cowboy boots. Not to put too fine a point on it, she was stuck, and the salesman had to lift her down to the ground.

Now let nobody point a finger at the salesman. He was the perfect gentleman who gave the impression that lifting attractive young ladies was just another part of the job that he performed numerous times during the course of his working day.

Indeed his manner was so polite and decorous that had a patrol of the famed Saudi morality police been passing, they would doubtless have found nothing to disturb their equilibrium.

In fact the whole incident passed off in an entirely respectable manner. It’s just unfortunate that one of the young lady’s work colleagues happened to pass at that particular moment and captured the incident for even on her phone.

Unwilling to be seen as less of a gentleman than the tractor salesman, I shall not reproduce the photograph.


Still to cheer you up there is always this


to quote a review “Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!”

And with one bound she was free! (or ‘Have you got a dog who can raise the dead?’)


Another day older and deeper in debt, but at least it’s not raining. Indeed it’s a good frost. The ground is hard, but the taps around the yard are still running. I can cope with this.

So the dog and I go to feed sheep. There’s some grass that needs cleaning off from a couple of fields somebody intended to make hay on last year. They got everything they needed to make hay but the weather, so hopefully the ewes will chew it off for them and tidy it up a bit. Also at least the fields are relatively dry and sheep aren’t paddling.

But anyway, after feeding two batches of ewes, I go and take a quick look at another batch. They’re not mine but we’ve somebody who’s got health issues and various neighbours are just looking after various bits of their enterprise until they’re back on their feet.

I was still on the quad, so drove into the field, and noticed one had got herself stuck in some briars. I decided to check the others, make sure they were OK, before coming back to get this one untangled. Everybody was OK, and as I drove back it occurred to me that I had a camera with me, it might not be a bad idea to get a photo of our entangled victim, just so people could see what happens.

Except Sal was on top of her game, dived over the hedge into where the sheep was, and suddenly the sheep erupted out of the tangle, running for its mates. Yep, with one bound, she was free!

Mind you that’s nothing. Yesterday, I’d just got changed for church and we got a phone-call. There’s a sheep stuck and probably dead in the hedge, apparently there was a crow landing on her. So I got unchanged, unleashed both quad and Sal and set off at speed. She might be alive but if she was trapped the crow would still take her eyes. Isn’t Nature wonderful!

Into the field, a quick look round and spot the likely suspect. She was lying prone by the hedge. With a quad bike and a Border Collie converging on her at 30mph she leapt to her feet and was off, trailing bits of wool and briar behind her. Well if she had been dead, she wasn’t now. Sal can notch up another success. She’s pretty good at wandering round hedges finding trapped sheep; she seems to regard it as her particular job.


Oh yes, in case you’ve forgotten you can see Sal here


Indeed for a mere 99p not only do you get a picture of her on your computer or phone, you can download the free kindle app and read a selection of stories as well. She even features in some of them.

And so it begins!


When we were scanning between Christmas and New Year, one ewe was ostentatiously more heavily in lamb than the others. So she was brought in and pampered a bit.

Because the weather has been so wet and disgusting, one of the hoggs that was running with the ewes was starting to look sad and bedraggled as well, so she was brought in to keep our expectant mum company.

Then the handful of fat lambs left were fetched in as well. In spite of being fed outside they were just spending more time huddled under the hedge than they were spending eating, and they gave the impression they were losing weight rather than gaining it. So they were brought in for a final week or so. So our expectant lady didn’t lack for company.

Anyway, yesterday morning when I went in with the bucket to feed them, there she was, standing with her two new lambs. OK so they’re born a month before any of the others are expected to arrive, but she’ll not be the first lady to manage this sort of thing without enquiring too deeply into the plans of others.

Indeed she does rather give the lie to those who think that it’s farmers who force sheep into early lambing. Sheep won’t lamb earlier than they will lamb. We can keep the tups separate, put them out later, to ensure ewes lamb later in the season, when hopefully the weather will be better, grass will be more plentiful, and lambs cheaper to rear. The alternative is to let tups in a bit earlier, let nature take its course, and have the lambs born earlier. This means that you have to feed them more. On the other hand you might get them away at the higher prices you see earlier in the season.
However a quick look at the graph will show that whilst you might hope for decent prices early in June it’s very variable, and is it worth betting the farm on?


But anyway, the rest of the ladies are still out at grass, we’ve started giving them some concentrate feed because now they’ve got lambs to feed and you’ve got to build up both mother and her unborn lamb. But not too much. There’s an art to feeding sheep at this time of year. You want ewe and lamb to be in good condition, but at the same time you don’t want to have the lamb grow too big or the ewe get too fat so that you end up having a difficult birth. We’ve got to get the jelly-baby through the hole in the polo mint, without damaging either the jelly-baby or the polo.

Happy New Year

Happy new year

New Year’s Eve was pretty much like what you’d expect. I got two phone calls, both to discuss sheep, and we agreed that we’d get some wintering hoggs wormed New Year’s Day morning.

The problem is that the weather so far this winter has been so wet; it’s been perfect for the snails that carry the intermediate stage of the Parasite. At the moment it’s so wet that when we go checking sheep in the morning, I can tell where Sal is by the splashing she makes as she runs about checking stuff.



Anyway this morning I decided to be clever. When I went out at the usual time to feed some dairy heifers I decided I’d get the wintering hoggs handy for the gate. This is because they’ve got two fields, and they’re separated by a shallow ditch which is currently a shallow lake. I decided that if I got them from the back field to the front one, then if they stayed there, when we came to collect them an hour later they’d be so much easier to bring in.

So Sal and I went to move them. They stood looking at the water obstacle as if it was a raging torrent, and then looked at Sal, and came to the reasonable decision that, actually, the water was the least of their problems. So they scampered through it, over the crest of the hill and out of sight down to the gate. Sal and I quietly left them there. We left the fields by a different gate so they couldn’t see us leave. My hope was that they’d hang about round by their gate, and would be wary about checking over the crest of the hill lest Sal was still there.

Then we went to get them, a bunch of little Swaledales, and, of course, they’d gone back to the far field, blithely crossing the water obstacle as if it were a matter of no concern.

Still we got them in, we got them wormed, and we took them back out again. Indeed it didn’t actually start raining until we were riding home on the quad, and it wasn’t raining properly until after we’d got the quad away. So all in all, quite a civilised way to spend a New Year’s Day morning.


Reminds me of a chap I knew who farmed further over, he got a phone call from a mate, just before Christmas.

“George, fancy some rough shooting?”

“Aye it’d be alright.”

“Boxing Day then, we’ll make a day of it, get picked up about 8am, dropped off about 9, spend a day working through the area. Then about 4pm we’ll be just nicely placed for the pub so we’ll go in, have a few beers, get a meal when they start serving, and we’ll get picked up and fetched home about 10pm. What do you think?”

“Sounds great, but I’ll be working.”

“Don’t worry, it’s a bank holiday, nobody works.”


Anyway Happy New Year to you all.


And if you’re not working, it stands to reason you need a good book

As a reviewer commented, “I find there’s nothing better on a cold wet day, than to sit indoors, near a warm fire/radiator, with a hot coffee, some biscuits/cake and one of Jim Webster’s books. So that’s what I’ve done today, with this particular book.
I find the plots intriguing, the characters endearing (even the ‘bad/evil’ ones) and the storytelling style relaxing.
The various threads in the stories are always neatly tied up and the endings invariably satisfactory.”